Photographer and writer Aaron Schuman introduces a selection of images from Mark Power's ongoing Good Morning, America series.
In 1954, when proposing his own ambitions to ‘photograph freely throughout the United States [in order to make] a broad, voluminous picture record of things American, past and present’, the renowned Swiss photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank wrote: ‘“The photographing of America” is a large order - read at all literally, the phrase would be an absurdity.’ Three-and-a-half years later, having travelled more than ten thousand miles and taken more than twenty-seven thousand photographs (only eighty-three of which made the final cut), he published The Americans, arguably one of the most important and influential photography books of all time.
In the same proposal, originally submitted to the Guggenheim Foundation, Frank explained that ‘[I]t is fair to assume that when an observant American travels abroad his eye will see freshly; and that the reverse may be true when a European eye looks at the United States. I speak of things that are there, anywhere and everywhere – easily found, not easily selected and interpreted.’ Nearly sixty years later, the celebrated British photographer Mark Power embarked on a similarly quixotic adventure, and since 2012 has returned to America time and time again with ‘fresh’ eyes, seemingly investigating anywhere and everywhere, while carefully selecting and interpreting for himself along the way.
Ultimately, his intention is to produce a five-volume set of books entitled Good Morning, America (Volumes I-V) - three of which have been published so far (I and II in 2019; III in 2020) - which he himself has described as ‘a personal and timely exploration of both the American cultural and physical landscape, and the divergence of reality and myth.’ Like Frank, as an observant ‘outsider’ Power is simultaneously consumed and confounded by the country itself and its inherent projection of the American Dream. Curiously drawn to its shiny and promising surface, yet acutely aware of its unsettling cracks, flaws and contradictions, he utilises the contemplative and revealing power of photography to unveil the disquieting unconscious that lies beneath it.
Yet, rather than encountering a country at the height of a self-congratulatory post-war boom, the America that Power is exploring is one in the midst of one of the most divisive, contentious and complicated decades in its history. Throughout his project so far, the visible signs of the country’s twentieth-century ambitions, influence, prosperity and self-confidence still loom large, but are clearly beginning to look tired, worn, and weathered. That’s not to say that Power’s vision is singularly stark or overtly pessimistic; in each of his expansively composed, meticulously observed, and extraordinarily detailed photographs there is grandeur and beauty throughout, as well as a profound, almost ecstatic, sense of wonderment - but one that is not filtered through a personal sense of nostalgia, or blinkered by a patriotic longing for an idealised past. Instead, here - at the dawn of the twenty-first century - America is seen in the clear light of day, as its fantastical Dream starts to fade away, and the country slowly awakens to find itself in an unnervingly uncanny and uncertain new reality.
Good Morning, America (Volume I) - sold out.
Good Morning, America (Volume II) and Good Morning, America (Volume III) - available at: https://www.markpower.co.uk/Bookshop
Good Morning, America (Volume IV) and Good Morning, America (Volume V) - coming soon.